Introduction: Recent years have seen an increasing recognition of the need to improve access and retention in care for people living with HIV/AIDS. This review aims to quantify patients along the continuum of care in sub-Saharan Africa and review possible interventions.
Methods: We defined the different steps making up the care pathway and quantified losses at each step between acquisition of HIV infection and retention in care on antiretroviral therapy (ART). We conducted a systematic review of data from studies conducted in sub-Saharan Africa and published between 2000 and June 2011 for four of these steps and performed a meta-analysis when indicated; existing data syntheses were used for the remaining two steps.
Results: The World Health Organization estimates that only 39% of HIV-positive individuals are aware of their status. Among patients who know their HIV-positive status, just 57% (95% CI, 48 to 66%) completed assessment of ART eligibility. Of eight studies using an ART eligibility threshold of ≤200 cells/µL, 41% of patients (95% CI, 27% to 55%) were eligible for treatment, while of six studies using an ART eligibility threshold of ≤350 cells/µL, 57% of patients (95% CI, 50 to 63%) were eligible. Of those not yet eligible for ART, the median proportion remaining in pre-ART care was 45%. Of eligible individuals, just 66% (95% CI, 58 to 73%) started ART and the proportion remaining on therapy after three years has previously been estimated as 65%. However, recent studies highlight that this is not a simple linear pathway, as patients cycle in and out of care. Published studies of interventions have mainly focused on reducing losses at HIV testing and during ART care, whereas few have addressed linkage and retention during the pre-ART period.
Conclusions: Losses occur throughout the care pathway, especially prior to ART initiation, and for some patients this is a transient event, as they may re-engage in care at a later time. However, data regarding interventions to address this issue are scarce. Research is urgently needed to identify effective solutions so that a far greater proportion of infected individuals can benefit from long-term ART.